Culture Shock

from: room 2011 Dharma Hall. Shaolin, Henan Province. China.

We are using a variety of books on this trip through China, among them the "Let's Go" guide. While there is no single guide book that has it all, carrying all is not an option. In which case I would recommend "Let's Go" over its' competitors. It has accurate information, passable maps and a great tone. It is also NOT the "Lonely Planet." Don't get me wrong, Lonely Planet make a great product. The problem is that every intrepid world traveler seeking something unique will find themselves sharing that remote beach or hole in the wall restaurant with other Lonely Plant acolytes (along with the zip-off pants, Teva sandals and as much North Face gear as you can shake a stick at). So locals will have long ago surrendered named sites to the touts.

This plug is actually far from the point however. I mention it only because after being in China for a little time now, something I read in Let's Go came to mind. Every anecdote we had heard about the Chinese came true within the first 48 hours. We saw people doing the Tango on the streets for exercise. We saw Tai-Chi in the early mornings. We saw old men walking their caged birds and playing Mah_Jonng in the streets. There were little caged crickets, thousands of bicycles and every incident of culture shock listed in the guide. They are as follows;

Bathrooms : This section warns not only about the squat-style toilets anyone who has been into an older European establishment will be familiar with, but of the cleanliness of said toilets. More specifically the lack of both sanitary conditions or privacy. Julie has alternated between loathing these toilets and praising their design. "At least if you don't want to touch anything, it's easier to squat over a filthy hole in the ground than a western style toilet." For a sample of facilities see our bathroom in Wushan.

Spitting: Let's Go warns, "The Chinese tend to be fairly upfront with how they take care of their phlegm." Poor embattled Julie seems to be getting it worse in this department too. Not only has she come down with the same kind of respiratory ailment as causes most of the massive phlegm generation in China, but she has managed to cover herself and her possessions in other peoples phlegm more often than is fair. I think there must be a connection between the two.

Staring: Alas, Julie once again drew the short straw on which of us would suffer most from this peculiar cultural difference. Blondes are about as common in China as hens teeth. Julie's unique appearance elicits not only wide and unabashed stares, but numerous photo requests. In the Forbidden City alone Julie was asked to pose for pictures with Chinese tourists 16 times. Her attitude alternates between flattered and creeped out. Not only am I not asked to pose, but I am asked to step out of the way so as not to ruin the shot. I am not offended though, just chuffed that it seems I have a trophy bride!

Beggars: This one is difficult and certainly not unique to China. The guidebook warns of the prevalence of beggars in China since the economy took a turn for the worse and unemployment has risen. The people we saw begging for alms outside the Buddhist temples had injuries and ailments that would have prevented them getting jobs in the most Bullish of markets. Everyone has stories of beggars they've seen with horrible afflictions and we have our fair share before even getting to India - by many accounts the Superbowl of beggars.

Karaoke: We have not run into any of this up to this point. When it does come I can't say that it will be much of a shock. Our family already has some members well versed in the dark art of Karaoke - you know who you are! Send money and that picture will never see the light of the Internet.




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